CFT Previews: Your Dec. 26 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 26 bowl menu, which features two teams each from the ACC and Big Ten, the first time those two conferences have taken part in the 2014-15 postseason

WHO: Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)
WHAT: The 4th Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHERE: The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Tex.
WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Illinois saved its season — and likely head coach Tim Beckman‘s job — by winning its last two games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011, the year prior to Beckman’s arrival.  Louisiana Tech is also playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2011, and the first time under second-year head coach Skip Holtz.  The first month of the season, though, it didn’t look like Tech would reach the postseason as the Bulldogs stumbled out of the gate at 2-3; they righted the listing ship over the last two months, however, as they closed out a 6-2 run to end the season with a Conference USA West division title and a spot in the league title game.  Those two losses to close out the season, incidentally, were by a total of six points — on the road in overtime against Old Dominion (30-27) and against Marshall (26-23) in the conference championship game.  One thing to note about the Illini: they went 4-3 with quarterback Wes Lunt starting and 2-3 when he didn’t start.  On the bowl depth chart, however, the quarterback position is listed as Reilly O’Toole or Lunt, in that order.  Another thing about the Illini, which doesn’t bode well for the Big Ten school: they were 109th in points allowed per game (33.9), while the Bulldogs were 13th in scoring offense (37.5 ppg).
THE LINE: Illinois, +6
THE PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech 41, Illinois 27

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WHO: Rutgers (7-5) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
WHAT: The inaugural Quick Lane Bowl
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: In games that Gary Nova has thrown fewer than two interceptions, Rutgers is 26-7 since 2011.  In games that Nova has thrown two or more interceptions, RU has gone 2-10, with the last of those wins coming in November of 2012.  North Carolina, meanwhile, was 49th in the country and fourth in the ACC with 12 picks during the regular season.  After jumping out to a 5-1 mark in their first season in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights stumbled to the regular-season finish line with a 2-4 record, with all four of those losses coming by at least 18 points and three of them coming by 20-plus.  The bad news for RU?  They’re 92nd in the country in points allowed per game (30.9), while UNC is 36th in scoring offense (33.8 ppg).  The good news for RU?  UNC’s defense is even worse, finishing the regular season 119th in points allowed (38.9 ppg).  Even worse for the Tar Heels, they’re 105th in passing yards (263.5 ypg) and have given up 34 or more points in eight of their 12 games this season.  In other words, this has all the makings of a good old-fashioned postseason shootout, one that would bring back memories of the old BYU Holiday Bowl appearances from years gone by.
THE LINE: Rutgers, +3
THE PREDICTION: Rutgers 48, North Carolina 45

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WHO: North Carolina State (7-5) vs. UCF (9-3)
WHAT: The 7th Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: If you find defensive football soothing to your palate, this bowl game has the potential to be extremely soothing, especially when it comes to the AAC representative.  UCF is ninth in the country in points per game allowed at 17.9, while North Carolina State is a middling T-68th (27 ppg).  In three of their last four games — all wins, incidentally –the Knights allowed a total of 14 points.  Neither offense figures to offer much resistance as NCSU finished the regular season 61st in scoring (29.8 ppg) and UCF finished 71st (28.2 ppg).  Since losing its first two games of the season to Penn State and Missouri, UCF reeled off wins in nine of their last 10 games.  NCSU, after winning its first four games, went 3-5 in the last two-thirds of the season, although they close out by winning three of four to become bowl-eligible for the first time under second-year head coach Dave Doeren.  UCF is currently riding a three-game bowl winning streak after losing the first three postseason games in the football program’s history, with each of those wins coming by double-digit margins.  The player to watch offensively is NCSU’s Jacoby Brissett, a dual-threat quarterback who posted nearly 3,000 yards of offense (2,344 passing, 498 rushing) and 25 touchdowns.  Arguably the most impressive part about the Florida transfer’s season is that he threw just five interceptions in 344 attempts, the third-fewest picks in the country, behind USC’s Cody Kessler (4, 413) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (2, 372), among the 62 quarterbacks who attempted at least 340 passes.  UCF, though, was tied for ninth in the country with 18 interceptions.
THE LINE: North Carolina State, +2
THE PREDICTION: UCF 20, North Carolina State 13

Keyshawn Johnson Jr. won’t be returning to Nebraska

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So much for that plan.

In late June of this year, Nebraska wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr., the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson, was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  Not long after, the wide receiver decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and would not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

At the time, the plan was for the junior Johnson to return to Lincoln and play his college football for Mike Riley.  With his father’s college offensive coordinator now out, so is the younger Keyshawn, which he confirmed via Twitter Friday evening.

Johnson Jr. was a four-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2017 recruiting class who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, but never played a down for the Cornhuskers.  Before signing with Nebraska, he held offers from, among others, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Ohio State and USC.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to a potential landing spot: the coach he signed with at NU, Mike Riley, returned to Oregon State late last week as an assistant coach.

CFT Previews: Las Vegas Bowl

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WHO: No. 25 Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
WHAT: The 26th Las Vegas Bowl
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
THE SKINNY: To say that Oregon and Boise State share a history on the field would be understating things just a bit despite the fact that they’ve played each other just twice. After all, bring up the Ducks to a Broncos fan or vice versa and you’re bound to hear about events from nearly a decade ago when the two played a memorable pair of games for anything but the outcome.

Boise State kicked off a perfect regular season during the first meeting back in 2008, a game best remembered for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked out then-Ducks starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. College football fans far and wide know all about the rematch a year later, which resulted in a 19-8 victory on the blue turf for the Broncos but is etched into everybody’s minds for LaGarrette Blount punching Byron Hout after the game to ruin Chip Kelly’s debut even further.

Those kinds of games seem like distant memories for both fan bases considering what each side have gone through to get to this point on Saturday.

Boise State enters with their first Mountain West in three years but are not quite the fun, high-scoring team many expected with veteran quarterback Brett Rypien at the controls. The signal-caller has rotated with Kansas transfer Montell Cozart as the offense has resorted to grinding out yards and using second half comebacks instead of scoring at will like in the past. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t explosive however, as wideout Cedrick Wilson is one of the best pass catchers in the region and should find plenty of open space during the game. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch leads the normally stout defense, which has allowed only two 100 yard rushers all season.

On the opposite sideline, Oregon enters on a slightly different note with Mario Cristobal officially coaching his first game as the team’s new head coach. He takes over for Willie Taggart, who left Eugene for the job at Florida State after just a single season at the school. What kind of impact that will have on the Ducks for the game remains to be seen but most of the staff has remained in place to help with bowl preparations so it’s one of the swifter transitions as far as these things go in the postseason.

No matter how fans feel about the new head coach though, chances are good that they’re just happy to have another chance to see what Justin Herbert can do behind center. The quarterback only threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns this season but suffered a broken collarbone early in the year to derail the team’s hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. The team went 5-1 in games he started, 2-4 in those he didn’t with a huge drop in points, yards and efficiency. That in turn hurt the productivity of the defense, which is led by linebacker Troy Dye and has still made huge strides from where they were a year ago. Also notable is the team’s best player — running back Royce Freeman — is opting to skip the bowl in order to prepare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

A lot of those factors would have you lean in the direction of the Broncos given the fact that they won the conference title just a few weeks ago and have the kind of defense that could give the Pac-12 power problems running the ball. Cristobal will have the Ducks fired up and ready for this kind of challenge however, and the return of Herbert has made this a completely different — and dangerous — team in their final two games of 2017. Something says the quarterback will be able to use a big performance against the Broncos on Saturday to parlay himself into being a Heisman favorite next season and end the year on a good note for Oregon with a bowl victory.

THE PICK: Oregon 38, Boise State 27

Dan Mullen adds ex-Tennessee assistant to Florida staff

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At last divisionally, the scenery won’t change at all for one SEC East assistant.

Florida announced Friday that Dan Mullen has added Charlton Warren to his Florida coaching staff.  Warren’s specific duties with the Gators in Mullen’s first year as head coach in Gainesville weren’t detailed.

This past season, Warren served as the defensive backs coach at Tennessee as well as the Vols’ special teams coordinator.  New UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt wasn’t expected to retain Warren.

Warren has spent a significant amount of his coaching career overseeing secondaries, so that’s a huge clue as to the general direction in which his duties under Mullen are headed.

Prior to his brief stint on Rocky Top, Warren served as the defensive backs coach at North Carolina (2014-16) and Nebraska (2012-13).  From 2005-13, he was the secondary coach at his alma mater Air Force.  During that time at the service academy, he was also co-defensive coordinator from 2008-11 and solo DC from 2012-13.

Alabama announces hiring of UTSA defensive coordinator

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In early January, new NCAA legislation will officially allow FBS football programs to add a 10th on-field assistant to their coaching staffs.  Friday, Alabama, not surprisingly, became the first Power Five program to officially dip into that particular coaching pool.

The Crimson Tide confirmed in a press release that Pete Golding has been added to Nick Saban‘s staff as an ambiguous defensive assistant.  Golding will not be permitted to assume an on-field role until Jan. 9, the day the 10th assistant rule officially goes into effect.

The 2017 College Football Playoff championship game is scheduled to be played Jan. 8 of next year, for what it’s worth.

“We are pleased to have Pete and his family join our staff at Alabama,” Saban said in a statement. “Pete is an exciting young coach, who has an outstanding reputation as both a teacher and recruiter. He will be a great fit in our organization with his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate to student-athletes. We are thrilled to welcome Pete and his family to Alabama.”

Golding, who will be permitted to work with his new program in an off-field capacity for now, has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at UT-San Antonio.  Prior to that, Golding spent two seasons as the safeties coach at Southern Miss, his first job at the FBS level.

Saban will still need to fill the hole created by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt‘s hiring as the head coach at Tennessee.  Pruitt will remain at Alabama through its playoff run, however long it lasts.